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A portrait of Thomas Carlyle published by The Graphic, on 15 July 1876. It is engraved from a watercolour by the artist  Helen Allingham
wood engraving, published 15 July 1876


The Artist: 

Helen Allingham (1848-1926). Raised in Cheshire Helen Allingham's talent as an artist emerged early and was encouraged by her maternal grandmother Sarah Smith Herford and aunt Laura Herford, both artists themselves. She trained at the Birmingham School of Design and then earned a place at the Female School of Art in London. In 1867 she was accepted into the Royal Academy Schools. She worked for engraving firms to provide an income and in 1870 was hired by The Graphic, a high-quality weekly magazine and enrolled for evening classes at the Slade School of Art. Her work and studies led her to meet many artists and writers and before long she met the editor of Fraser's Magazine, the Irish poet William Allingham, 25years her senior and they married in 1874. William Allingham was a great friend of Thomas Carlyle, now in his eighties. Their first son was named Gerald Carlyle in his honour. She executed many  portraits of Carlyle in the later stages of his life. 


In later life she became  one of the best known Victorian painters in watercolours, the first woman to gain full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society and one of the most successful female British artists ever. Her idealised rural views was incredibly popular with the public, and her watercolours of country gardens and cottages were sensitively and delicately executed.  After the death of her husband in 1889 she continued to support her family by painting constantly, even when her work went out of fashion in the early twentieth century.


The Sitter:Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)


Like him or loathe him there is no doubt that Thomas Carlyle was a pivotal figure in nineteenth-century society. Born and raised in Scotland to Calvinist parents he was intended for the ministry but declined that vocation and became first a teacher and then a historian. He was a social critic, essayist, public speaker, historian and novelist and his views courted controversy and debate, both during his lifetime and certainly today.  In his 1841 publication 'On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in Society', he claimed 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men' and was a powerful voice in the establishment of National Portrait Galleries in Edinburgh and Scotland. He was at once a critic of universal male suffrage but railed against the spiritual cost that industrialisation brought on humanity. In his 1849 essay  'Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question' made clear his overt racism and opposition to human rights. When he supported the repressive measures  to suppress the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica many of his liberal friends abandoned him. 


This engraving after a watercolour by Allingham now in a private collection captures him in his final years, in a private moment in his garden in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, wholly absorbed in his book. 


Portrait of Thomas Carlyle, Helen Allingham - Framed Antique Print

SKU: 1087
  • Image Number: 1087
    Title: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle
    Artist: Helen Allingham 

    Publisher: The Graphic 

    Date: 1876

    Medium: Wood engraving

    Framed size (h x w): 405 x 300mm


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